So you’ve decided to jump into the rabbit hole of archery elk hunting…That’s awesome!! Maybe you’ve had some friends or family that have experienced success, or possibly you’re just looking for an exciting new elk hunting challenge. Regardless of your reasoning to take upon this new adventure, we would like to share some archery elk hunting basics to help wager bow hunters hit the field with confidence.

The Elk Rut

Let’s assume you want to bow hunt elk because most seasons fall within the elk rut. You’ve spent a lot of time outside and every time you hear a bull’s bugle, chills run down your spine and excitement is felt within your gut. Spending time in the elk woods during the rut is special and is something, once experienced, very hard to forget.

Elk are extremely social animals that use a variety of sounds to communicate within the herd. Understanding elk language is somewhat important to your eventual elk hunting success so spend as much time as possible in the field listening to elk sounds. Watch how they react to the elk calls of other members of the herd and take note of the scenario to help get a grip on what they’re saying to each other.

The elk rut is a very busy time for elk because the cows will be in estrous only briefly and the available bulls must work hard to breed during this short window. This makes even the largest bulls come out of their high country hiding spots to chase cows and fight other bulls for dominance. Rutting bulls seem to lose most of their situational awareness which makes them very susceptible to the advances of bow hunters. Calling in bulls is likely the most effective way to close the gap by using knowledge of elk communication and the the fact that they are on a blinded mission to breed.

Calling Elk

Learning to call elk is an essential skill.

There’s an infinite number of scenarios that you’ll experience while calling elk, and contrary to popular belief they rarely behave exactly how you want them to. I’m going to explain a generalized situation that seems to be relatively common here that you can build upon while expanding on these elk hunting basics in the field.

Hopefully you’ve scouted out a location that has a good number of rutting elk and are in the field well before sunup. You many hear a bull in the distance and then start working toward the sound before setting up. Or, more likely during most hunts, you’ll have to throw out a bugle to get a response…

There are a variety of bugle tunes on the market, and really they all work. Some of them come with a reed fixed on the mouthpiece, others work in conjunction with a diaphragm mouth call. I always suggest that hunters new to archery elk hunting get familiar with diaphragm calls. The versatility is just hard to beat! Once you get the hang of diaphragm calls you can make most sounds an actual elk can make! There are so many designs out there so try a few styles and brands until you find the one that fits you right. After deciding on a style, the brand will likely offer different latex options which create slightly different sounds, and that is usually written right in the package. Pick up a variety of diaphragm calls designed to create both bull and cow sounds, and start practicing! You can imitate what you’ve heard while listening to elk, or watch YouTube and imitate that you’re hearing. Practice as often as you can u til you think that you can create passable elk sounds.

After letting out a locator bugle and getting an answer, try to determine how far out the elk is before just rushing in there. He might have a ton of cows with him, he might be alone, at this point all you know is that there’s a bull over there somewhere. Whether the bull is close or far, you will need to get the wind in your favor before setting up to call. A crosswind works well, but having the wind in your face works much better. The wind is a fickle beast in elk country…The constant swirling and changing of direction has foiled many elk setups over the years, so just do your best to get the wind in your favor and hope for the best. You never know, sometimes bulls are so fired up that they come to the call from absolutely any direction without regard to wind direction or your scent.

Use the topography and vegetation to help conceal your approach and if the bull is still a ways off, bugle intermittently to determine his course of travel, if any. Elk can, and will travel great distances in a short amount of time, so keeping tabs on a bull with locator bugles will help keep you on track, and let you know that particular bull might be willing to play the game.

Calling elk works best with a shooter positioned between the elk and the caller(s). This will help eliminate the possibility of the bull hanging up just out of range. Your goal is to draw the bull past the shooter within shooting range as he investigates the sounds being created by the callers.

The jury is still out on whether bull or cow sounds work best when calling elk, and a lot of that depends on the particular bull you’re calling. If after your approach you can see or hear that the bull has cows, get as close as you can and bugle. Every time the bull bugles, shoot one right back at him, sometimes cutting him off mid bugle. In some instances this will infuriate the bull and he will come in looking for a fight. You may also get satellite bulls investigating from the fringes of the herd as well, so stay alert and expect an elk to appear from any direction.

If you have determined a bull to be alone, or with only a handful of cows and not actively chasing them, cow calling might be your best bet. Use a series of estrous related calls to let the bull know you are a cow that’s ready to breed. He might bugle, he might not, but if he’s hanging out with cows that aren’t in the mood, and your calls convince him you’re ready to go, it just might be enough to draw him in.

Calling elk takes practice and situational experience but the above elk calling basics will get beginners started in the right direction, and might even get a bull within range for a shot. In the next section we’ll talk about your bow setup and using it effectively for elk hunting.

Elk Bow Basics

If you already bow hunt deer or other species, it’s likely your archery setup will work just fine for elk. You don’t need an 80 pound bow shooting 500 grain arrows to effectively kill elk. Successful shots come down to your comfort level and ability to place a broadhead tipped arrow into the relatively large vital area of an elk. I’ve seen bow hunters absolutely hammer bulls with a well placed shot from a 50 pound bow and get a complete pass through and short blood trail. I’ve also seen hunters hit an elk shoulder well within acceptable shooting range with a 70 pound bow and lose the elk. Your main goal should be to understand where elk vitals are located and and be able to place an arrow there under pressure.

Choosing A Bow For Elk

Choosing the right bow for elk hunting takes time and patience.

If you don’t currently have a bow setup, the first logical step is to figure out which bow fits you the best. With so many options on the market form a variety of awesome bow manufacturers, you’re going to find “the one” of you try enough different models. Please be advised not to purchase a bow that you haven’t tried out first! We’re all different and the bow your buddy shoots might be all wrong for you. Take a trip to one or more archery pro shops and ask to try out the bows. Let the pros guide you through the process of bow selection but pay close attention to how you feel shooting each of the models you try. You’re going to know when you find the one that works for you.

Just as there’s tons of bow models currently for sale, there’s just as many components (arrow rests, bow sights, quiver, etc.) available for new bow hunters to choose from. Research on your own or let the archery pro shop employee help you choose. Ask your friends or propose questions on Facebook groups seeking information. Most of the time people will share what they’re using and why.

Broadheads For Elk

This topic is often debated, but in reality there’s a lot of great broadheads for elk on the market today. A lot of bow hunters agree that a solid one-piece constructed broadhead will work best on the tough hide and thick bones of a bull elk. Yet again mechanical broadheads for elk work well too! Mechanical broadhead design has come a long way…We’ve followed long and short blood trails from both fixed and mechanical broadheads. Again, it all comes down to shot placement and understanding the limitations of both your setup and personal ability.


Practice with your bow as often as possible. By gaining an intimate understanding of your bow, and how to use it in a variety of archery elk hunting situations, you will be well prepared for your upcoming hunt.

There are times when you’re either hunting elk in areas with sparse vegetation, or caught off guard and must conceal yourself quickly. A common reaction to these situations is to drop to your knees and ready yourself for a shot. Practice shooting from your knees, uphill, downhill, from strange angles, etc. You never know when a shot might present itself so you might as well be ready for as many situations as possible.


Hopefully these archery elk hunting basics will help you get into the game a little easier while shortening the learning curve. Be forewarned that archery elk hunting is an addictive endeavor that will consume your thoughts and play with your emotions. It’s not easy being an elk hunter, but it’s a lot cooler if you are.

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